Oh Canada! Eh?
As a young girl, I first left the United States with my parents and three sisters on several vacations across the pond in the 1960’s. While there were some moments akin to Chevy Chase’s European Vacation, for the most part, they were memorable family adventures.
My first black and white passport picture could have easily been displayed on the Most Wanted juvenile section in any U. S. Post Office. We were not allowed to smile back then and color was not an option. But the European border guards in their simple wooden posts did not seem alarmed and readily matched up my colorful, smiling face as we passed into various countries in our rented van.
When I journeyed alone to Australia as an America Field Service exchange student in 1969, my picture was still in black and white, but not as scary. And then in 1972, when I studied at the University of Madrid and lived in Spain for a year, I was finally in living color, with a smile. On those trips when I was at the airport customs counter, I presented my passport book to a serious looking official who in turn looked me directly in the eyes for what seemed an eternity. Silently staring back, I remember wondering if real fugitives broke under the intense scrutiny and caved into a confession and then were taken off and never seen again.
This summer I should have been alerted to some changes when I renewed my passport for my upcoming trip to Canada. I was delighted to be presenting a workshop and doing a book signing at Soaring Spirits International’s Camp Widow Canada 2014. www.sslf.org Carefully picking a good hair day, I perched on a stool at a local CVS and smiled widely for my photo. The clerk quickly corrected me and told me not to show my teeth. What? Were we being sensitive now to toothless individuals or to ones in need of extensive orthodontic work? I did not understand the command but pressed my lips together in order to get the photo I needed. My daughter later explained to me that my open mouth would interfere with an accurate facial scan, which did come into play later on at the border.
I have national air travel experience since 9/11 so I fully understood the restrictions for limited amounts of gels and liquids. Therefore, I had been collecting tiny bottles and sample containers to fill with my own necessary creams and beauty supplies. These items were packed in my purse so I could quickly show them in their prescribed clear plastic bag to prove that I was in compliance. I also brought a small roller board suitcase so that I would not have to pay the fee for checked luggage. My workshop, “There’s No Place Like Home” was built around the characters of the iconic Wizard of Oz. For a special effect, I borrowed one of my granddaughter’s princess wands. It was about 18 inches long and when a button was pressed, a multitude of colored lights lit up and a magical chime played. I also brought 75 miniature wands to hand out to my audience for their own future magical moments.
On my outbound flight I had to remove my shoes and assume the “stick-up” position with my hands crossed over my head while I stood in the tube that I think can see through to my underwear. I have done this before and I don’t mind the extra security check and always wear nice lingerie. As I came out the other side I noticed that the TSA inspector was pausing the conveyor belt and was leaning into the screen while carefully examining my carry-on items. Oh great I panicked! He is probably wondering why I have so many small containers of creams and lotions. Did he think I was I going to mix them all together on the plane and make a toxic potion to harm the passengers?
And then there was the thought of the wand! I was worried about its small lithium battery that might be in violation of acceptable items and that the official was going to take away my prop. My granddaughter was going to be very upset if it got confiscated! Taking the crazy train to one more stop, I wondered if he thought that maybe the wand had some sort of power and coupled with my assorted liquids, that I was a wild extremist. Continuing with my temporary insanity, I realized that he must have seen the small wands which could have added the final piece of the scenario of a cult leader trying to recruit new members with free hand held devices and a promise of magic! My arm pits were getting damp and I did not want to flinch for fear that I would be interrogated. Back and forth it went on the belt and then he finally removed my items and waved me to a separate table.
“Is this your bag?” he questioned me?
“Yes,” I meekly replied.
“I am going to have to test it further, “he warned me as he pulled out a plastic stick with a blue piece of paper at the end.
Yep, he thinks I am up to no good with my Oil of Olay and wrinkle cream I thought as I watched the serious man swab the inside of my carry-on bags. Finally I got the okay to put everything back in my bags, put on my shoes and move along. Whew! I still had my wands!
I knew the plane was small, but I had not been on one that small since I flew back and forth to college. 19 seats, one aisle, 2 prop engines, a captain and first officer, no flight attendants, and….no door or even a curtain between the cabin and the cockpit! What the heck? I just went through an extensive search and possible water boarding to get on this! I could not believe it!
I was in seat number 2A and was about 8 feet from the open cockpit. There were only 6 of us on the plane that morning and I looked back to see if anyone was as alarmed as I was. I also was doing a quick scan for possible danger and sinister looking passengers.
During the loud, vibrating hour and a half flight I was intrigued by the buttons and lights of the controls in front of me. I saw the pilot accelerate and pull back on a lever for take-off. Gosh, I felt like I was having flying lessons. But meanwhile, in the dark corner of my mind, I was still concerned about an easy access to the pilot. I knew that we all had gone through security, but I felt like my large purse could have been a possible danger like the heavy handbag of Ruth Buzzi’s character in Rowan & Martin’s comedy-variety show Laugh-In where she used to ward off dirty old men with her purse. One whack over the head with my bag along with the use of my scarf as a blindfold could have been dangerous! I did not like being that close.
Fortunately, all went well and the flight was uneventful. I was allowed into Canada with my liquids, gels and wands.
In 3 days it was time to reverse the process, but this time from a larger, foreign airport. Thankfully I generally understand the procedure of self-serve kiosks and I can follow the directions of a touch screen pretty well. Unlike my earlier travel days, I did not show my passport to a person, but instead I had to insert it in the tray of a machine with my picture face down. I figured out that part easily enough, but then came a random written personal prompt.
“Take off your sunglasses Kim”.
How did that machine know I was wearing shades? How did it know my name? Who was watching me? Then I saw my real time picture appear in front of me and I saw the tiny camera at the top of the monitor. It was attempting to scan my facial profile to coincide with the one on my passport. And therein was why I could not previously show my teeth on my passport photo! I closed my mouth for a good match.
More questions, more buttons to press and the machine spit out my printout to allow me to go to the customs agent who barely looked at me as he stamped my passport and said goodbye. Shoes off again, personal items on the conveyor belt and a walk through the security check device. No swabbing, no re-scanning. Actually I was not even thinking about my remaining liquids and wands; I was just focusing on all of the new technology and the machine that yelled at me for my sunglasses!
Out on the tarmac.
Same type of plane.
Same seat, 2A.
Still no door to the cockpit!
A young man who looked to be the age of my son was the captain and a young lady, equally as young was seated next to him. This time the plane was almost full and my alert antenna went up again concerning the other passengers behind me. I know what I was thinking on the flight in and I was worried that someone else might have the same thoughts this time around and besides, there were twice as many passengers. So I decided to secretly appoint myself as the air marshal since there was no one in Row #1 and I was the first line of defense.
Once we took off I sat up straight in my seat and positioned the handles on my purse in an upward position under the seat in front of me so that I could easily grab them in case I needed to thwart a rush to the front of the plane. I kept my seat belt on for safety reasons but I leaned a little towards the aisle to listen for any unnecessary clicks that might indicate a loose passenger. I did not fall asleep. I was on duty.
When we safely landed I was relieved and whispered a thank you to which ever guardian angel was flying with me that day. I thought about suggesting to the flight crew who were standing at the exit that they might want put a few more security safeguards onboard. But I figured that like my children, they would probably smile dismissively at me and tell me to have a nice day. So I quietly exited and reminded myself that there a few government agencies in both countries that might have this covered.
Good bye Canada. I made it! Eh?
(I would like to say thank you to my new Canadian friend Suzanne who told me to incorporate the “eh?” to prove that I was actually in Canada and mingling with the natives. Thanks Suzanne!)